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Middlebury officials eye fix for Creek Road

MIDDLEBURY —Middlebury selectboard members on Tuesday, Oct. 9, will take a long look at a deteriorating road that’s been causing them major headaches during the past three years: Creek Road.
The board wants to reassess repair options for the road in light of further damage caused by occasional flooding and erosion from the adjacent Otter Creek. That damage has been so severe that municipal officials closed the road to through-traffic around in 2015. It’s currently gated at a location around 2.2 miles south of Route 7 on the way to Three Mile Bridge Road.
Meanwhile, Creek Road residents continue to voice concerns about damage and access issues. Several of them petitioned the town in 2016 to repair and open the road. In response, Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said the community was “working in good faith and reasonable dispatch to determine the extent of erosion of the banks of the Otter Creek running along Creek Road, develop a series of options for the road, and identify potential funding sources for those options.”
Creek Road has been a regular agenda item for the Middlebury Infrastructure Committee.
“We feel it’s time that the board takes a ride down Creek Road and see what’s changed since the 2015 closure,” Public Works Planning Director Dan Werner told the board at its Sept. 11 meeting. “There are now four or five places where the (road) bank has sloughed off into the creek, and this makes for hazardous travel.”
The town last year commissioned Pathways Consulting to take a look at Creek Road and suggest some long-term fixes. The consultant developed four recommendations, ranging in cost from $530,000 to around $1.4 million. After a follow-up study and input from Middlebury officials and property owners, the consultants backed a $1.15 million plan that called for, among other things, shifting 8,320 feet of Creek Road away from the creek in order to restore a 25-foot, vegetated buffer between the road and the adjacent creek banks. This design would require the acquisition of 7,400 feet of additional right-of-way width (10 to 40 feet) on several private properties immediately east of Creek Road.
Given the big price tag, Middlebury officials have shifted their focus to seeing what minimal repairs could be made in order to possibly reopen the road and buy more time for phasing in major upgrades.
Middlebury residents this past March approved a fiscal year 2019 municipal budget that includes $40,000 for Creek Road repairs.
“Honestly, that doesn’t do much of anything, considering the situation of the road,” Werner said of the $40,000 allowance.
So the board will weigh options other than a massive overhaul.
Werner noted Creek Road is currently designated by the town as a “Class 3” road, a category that requires some maintenance by the municipality. If it were to be downgraded to a Class 4 road, it would receive no state funding for repairs, according to Werner.
“You could downgrade it to a trail,” Werner added. “You can still maintain a right-of-way, I believe, without having a physical, passable road. You can decide to discontinue a portion of that road, based on the fact it’s been impacted by flood damage. There are many options to consider.”
Selectwoman Laura Asermily noted the major choices the board will need to review.
“Is this going to be an all-season, car-access road, or do we see it as a seasonal car access road,” Asermily asked. “Or does it lead to something else, like a bike-pedestrian path, with some limited access for farmers, those who live out there and emergency vehicles?”
Selectwoman Heather Seeley chairs the Infrastructure Committee. She said the board will need to carefully study its potential obligations when it comes to fixing or downgrading the Creek Road.
For example, she noted fellow committee member Don Keeler recently pointed to a state law indicating the land under a road is technically owned by the adjacent property owners. The community possesses an easement that allows it to create the road and maintain it.
“When we consider possibly changing the status of the road, it may go back to the property owners,” Seeley said.
At the same time, she acknowledged, “By state statute, we are obligated to maintain and keep open roads.”
Middlebury selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter said he’s looking forward to the upcoming Creek Road tour. Selectboard members will convene at the town offices at 5 p.m. for that Oct. 9 visit.
“I certainly think it would be beneficial for us to get down there and put some eyes on it and maybe walk through some of the concerns, and see what some of the potential fixes are,” Carpenter said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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